Monday, 28 July 2014

Age discrimination in the workplace

On Linkedin there's a spirited, 3000+ reply, about hiring those who are 50+ and needles to say most of the responses are positive about it. I've of course not read anything over about 100 replies, but my reading of the posts is the experience and stability brought are worth various quantities of gold.. For me it's almost a mute point, but then perhaps I 'get' it that you can't just rule out someone for a role base on age. It's ludicrous to think that age alone qualifies or disqualifies someone for a role in our software development and testing profession. I like the fact the UK is pretty hot on age discrimination. When I was in manufacturing virtually all the candidates were 50+ women looking for part or full-time roles on the production line for a bit of extra money. I guess my early working years just normalised the idea of hiring older members of staff. In truth, the 'youngsters' were seen as a liability and sad to say, provide themselves to be repeatedly. As the process engineer it was my role to set-up the manufacturing line, optimise layout and £££ return per square foot, research tool selection, get us through ISO9001, etc.

Looking back now, it was fun having these 50+ people (mostly ladies) work there, I mean it, I looked forward to getting into work and wandering over to the line, saying "good morning ladies" in a charming / slightly comedic way and having them take the micky with their "ooh, young maaan" response. I'm pretty much always happy, I don't laugh that much as a rule though, but I laughed every day with them. Thinking about it now I have a sense of colour, sunlight and fresh air, memories are funny eh? What really made it work was the mutual respect. As a 20 something I was in awe at the incredible experience they had, I would constantly ask their advice about how they'd set the line up, write up the instructions, sequence the build and so on. In turn, they produced so little bad quality product, the company let the 'quality controller' go, woops! We ended up just throwing the few defective units into recycling.

Now I'm in software testing and development, I don't see a massive amount of age discrimination. However, there are certainly roles that naturally fit with a person of a certain age. Senior Programme Managers are rarely 22, agile Ruby on Rails developers are rarely 55, except where these individuals are exceptional. But then, hey... they're exceptional so you'd expect them to break the typical patterns. Not that it isn't tricky to get exactly the role you may want for the salary or day rate you'd like. I'd really like to get hands on for 12 to 18 months with Ruby, Cucumber, RSpec, Selenium, etc. but there's younger more technically focused talent out there. I'm sure some of the younger talent would love to be at an investment bank running automation programmes through multiple off-shore teams, but they don't have the experience. That's not age discrimination, it's fitting the best person to the job, sometimes age means you aren't in the right place experience or career stage wise, but it's not the age that's the problem as such.

Talking of exceptions, the youngsters I come across today are a class apart from those I encountered 15 years ago. Our profession certainly breeds them like this to some degree, but I think da yoof have changed. The, let's say 22-25 year olds that I work with now, are in the main pretty inspiring. I consider myself to be the most educated, experienced, erudite, etc. that I have ever been, but I'm not convinced I was as bright and well educated as they are at their age. On the reverse, I don't think the 40 and 50 years olds of today are as old as they were 15 or 20 years ago either. My parents seemed ancient to me when they were 35, at 42 I feel like I've just left university. A general youthfulness of perspective permeates society more so than ever. Daily, I'll be asked for some guidance and advice from a slightly panicked more junior member of staff and I can barely feel a flicker of worry in my mind. Conversely, I turn clueless to the same people and ask for technical guidance and mentoring on how to best approach a problem, to see them answer the problem as if it were the simplest thing in the world. There's definitely a greater equality age wise, it's not perfect, but I don't see it as the disaster some would like to paint.

The 'age' problem exists when an employer assumes if you're over 50 you can't do the role, without any qualification than 'but you're over 50'. It's just like saying you can't do it because you're too young, you're black, an immigrant, a woman. Your blood should rightly boil in all cases. If you apply to a company like this or work for one, do everyone a favour and walk away as fast as you can. Their time is done anyway, they'll fade away into the black hole they deserve to be in soon enough, get away before you and others get sucked in.

The main question when applying for a role or hiring for the same, should of course be whether the person represents the best talent for the role. Career paths to date, education, experience, attitude, interests and outlook are all factors that play hugely into whether you're the right candidate for the role. The youthful and mature alike cry foul at not being able to get the roles they want.That the 50+ crowd shout that it's unfair is a great sign that times and expectations have changed. It's fantastic that people refuse to be limited by a false sense of limitation due to age, that a Linkedin post can get 3000+ responses agreeing age is irrelevant. Finally we're starting to see the first sparks of (some portions) of human society refusing to be held back. It can only be for the good.

However, despite my positive view on this point, there is a very real workplace issue that is not getting the notice it should.

A seriously bad issue. Bad as in as bad as racial and sexual discrimination. A problem so serious, so abhorrent, that no right minded individual should be staying quiet about it.

That problem, is workplace and pay inequality for women.

I'll talk about that in a future post.